Sweatshop Ethics: The Debate over Global Labor Standards

Date:  Sunday, March 14, 2010
Speaker:  Günseli Berik

Günseli Berik is professor of Economics at the University of Utah. Her research and teaching is in the areas of labor and economic development. She is coeditor of the Journal Feminist Economics and is part of research communities that seek to transform economics and economic policy towards ones that promote equitable wellbeing. Her recent research is on trade, employment and working conditions in developing countries with a focus on China and Bangladesh. She is also interested in the broader metrics of economic welfare that address the shortcomings of GDP and is currently involved in a project estimating the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for Utah. She has coedited Social Justice and Gender Equality: Rethinking Development Strategies and Macroeconomic Policies (Routledge 2008); Gender, China and the WTO (Routledge 2009), also published in Chinese (Economic Science Press, Beijing 2009), and the Inequality, Development and Growth special issue of Feminist Economics (2009).

“Sweatshops in developing countries appear on and off in the US news media. Reporting is frequently accompanied by commentary that assures us that their existence is an inevitable, if painful, step in the development process of countries, one that U.S. and other rich countries successfully left behind. We are reminded that worrying about working conditions is a luxury poor countries can ill afford. Is leaving improvement of working conditions to the market forces the only option for developing country workers who work in sweatshop conditions? This presentation will examine the working conditions problems, the processes that generate them, and assess the potential and viable responses to these conditions, namely, the use of trade policy, the corporate codes of conduct, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) decent work agenda.”

Recommended Reading and Resources:
Christian Barry and Sanjay Reddy, International Trade and Labor Standards: A Proposal for a Linkage, Columbia University Press, 2008.
Alexandra Harney, The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage, Penguin, 2009.
Jose Antonio Ocampo and Jomo K.S. eds. Towards Full and Decent Employment, Zed Press, 2007.
Rhys Jenkins, Ruth Pearson and Gill Seyfang, eds. Corporate Responsibility and Labour Rights: Codes of Conduct in the Global Economy, Earthscan 2002.
China Blue (videorecording), Bullfrog Films 2005.